Will film pro­duc­tion ever re­turn to Florida?

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - - MONEY - By Steven Le­mon­gello Or­lando Sen­tinel

State Sen. Linda Ste­wart wants to bring back in­cen­tives for film and TV pro­duc­tion in Florida — and she wants to use tourist tax money to do it.

“All our movies and all our film­ing has gone to Ge­or­gia or Louisiana, and they’re mak­ing a for­tune,” said Ste­wart, D-Or­lando. “Films and movies are huge eco­nomic driv­ers.”

The bill, S726, filed Tues­day, would al­low coun­ties to use the 6 per­cent tax charged on short-term ren­tals, mostly ho­tels and mo­tels, to “pro­mote or in­cen­tivize film or tele­vi­sion pro­duc­tions in this state.”

The def­i­ni­tion of “pro­duc­tion” in Florida’s statutes also in­cludes video games, mean­ing in­cen­tives could also go to­ward com­pa­nies such as EA Sports in Mait­land.

Kelly Paige, past pres­i­dent of film and TV pro­duc­tion as­so­ci­a­tion Film Florida, stressed the bill isn’t a tra­di­tional sales tax ex­emp­tion, but “only gives (pro­duc­tions) the op­por­tu­nity to present each case in­di­vid­u­ally, on its own merit,” to county boards.

In 2018, Orange County alone took in about $280 mil­lion in tourist de­vel­op­ment taxes, or TDT, and rev­enue from the tax has paid for the Orange County Con­ven­tion Cen­ter, the Amway Cen­ter, Citrus Bowl ren­o­va­tions, the Dr. Phillips Cen­ter for the Per­form­ing Arts, and Visit Or­lando, the area’s main tourism pro­moter.

In Orange County, the Tourist De­vel­op­ment Coun­cil ad­vises com­mis­sion­ers on TDT spend­ing. Orange County Mayor Jerry Dem­ings and Visit Or­lando did not re­turn re­quests for com­ment.

“If Leonardo Di­Caprio wants to come down and film a $130 mil­lion film in the area and take five months do­ing so, this gives coun­ties the op­por­tu­nity to use a min­i­mum in­vest­ment on a very big re­turn,” Paige said. “It gives them the op­por­tu­nity to pitch the project to county com­mis­sions ... they’d have to have all the num­bers lined up — this num­ber of ho­tel nights, rental cars, dry clean­ing.”

Florida needs the help, she said. “We’re dy­ing out here.”

While a few TV pro­duc­tions are filmed in Or­lando, in­clud­ing “Deal or No Deal” and “Fam­ily Feud” at Uni­ver­sal Stu­dios Or­lando and “David Makes Man,” an OWN series filmed in Cen­tral Florida in 2018, film and TV pro­duc­tion has started to dry up since the state’s tax ex­emp­tions for pro­duc­tions ex­pired in 2016.

The for­mer statewide pro­gram, which pro­vided sales and use tax ex­emp­tions on pro­duc­tion-re­lated pur­chases in Florida, had al­ready used up the $296 mil­lion in tax cred­its it was al­lo­cated by 2015 and was sus­pended that year.

Mean­while, pro­duc­tion of TV shows and films such as “Stranger Things,” “The Walk­ing Dead” and the Mar­vel Cine­matic Uni­verse films has been boom­ing in Ge­or­gia, largely thanks to its gen­er­ous tax cred­its of up to 30 per­cent.

Louisiana, which saw a huge dip in film and TV pro­duc­tion af-

ter a sim­i­lar in­cen­tive pro­gram was capped in 2015, has also seen an up­turn since the laws were mod­i­fied, the New Or­leans Ad­vo­cate re­ported last year. In 2018, Chan­ning Ta­tum’s XMen film “Gam­bit” and Tom Hanks’ World War II drama “Grey­hound” were filmed in the state, the Ad­vo­cate re­ported.

Paige pointed to “Pa­per Towns,” a 2015 film based on a young adult novel by for­mer Or­lando res­i­dent John Green.

“It was an Or­lando writer, it took place in Or­lando, and it wasn’t filmed there,” Paige said, in­stead be­ing shot in North Carolina. She said another $75 mil­lion pro­duc­tion also passed on fill­ing in Cen­tral Florida be­cause of the lack of ex­emp­tions.

Film Florida plans to in­tro­duce its own pro­posal dur­ing the up­com­ing leg­isla­tive ses­sion, what Paige called a “very con­ser­va­tive” grant pro­gram that would work on a sim­i­lar level statewide.

In the mean­time, “I love this bill,” she said. “It would at least get things go­ing and get us started again.”

But skep­tics of film in­cen­tives, in­clud­ing An­dres Malave with Amer­i­cans for Pros­per­ity-Florida, crit­i­cized what they have called the “cor­po­rate wel­fare” of giv­ing tax money to busi­nesses.

A state Of­fice of Eco­nomic and De­mo­graphic Re­search re­port from 2018, he said, showed a re­turn on in­vest­ment of just 18 cents on the dol­lar for the state’s use tax ex­emp­tion pro­gram for the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try and 58 cents on the dol­lar for the sales tax ex­emp­tion.

Malave said his group has talked to film in­dus­try rep­re­sen­ta­tives to find ways of help­ing film­ing “other than cash in­jec­tions from tax­pay­ers . ... Are reg­u­la­tions we can cut in any way? All tax­pay­ers can ul­ti­mately ben­e­fit from that.”

The Cen­tral Florida Ho­tel and Lodg­ing As­so­ci­a­tion had been op­posed to other changes in TDT fund­ing. In 2018, the group suc­cess­fully lob­bied to ex­empt Orange, Semi­nole and Osce­ola coun­ties from be­ing able to spend TDT rev­enues on roads and other cap­i­tal projects.

The as­so­ci­a­tion did not re­turn a re­quest for com­ment Tues­day.

“This is another op­por­tu­nity they should re­con­sider,” Ste­wart said of the as­so­ci­a­tion. “In a year­round state, where the weather is per­fect, they re­ally should be sup­port­ive of film and movie pro­duc­tion.”

RED HU­BER/OR­LANDO SEN­TINEL

Full Sail Uni­ver­sity stu­dents work­ing in the Mas­ter of Fine Arts pro­gram came to Lake Eola Park in April 2016 to make a short film.

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